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4 girlfriends Sept trip to NAPA

hey fellow foodies! my sister, best friend and her sister are travelling to Napa for a 4 night escape in Sept. we would really appreciate any advice on what not to miss. this will be a first time trip for all of us. coming from chicago and NYC, we are ALL foodies and are up for anything...cheap, expensive, casual, fancy, crazy, chill...just as long as there is good food and wine involved. thanks in advance!

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  1. In Napa, Oxbow Market good place to stroll, several restaurants and places to drink wine. In Yountville, Bottega (Italian), Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller's family style restaurant), Bouchon and Mustards which is just up the highway a mile. In St Helena 9 miles further north Cook(Italian), and Martini House. As far as wineries probably some 300 to choose from but make sure 4 ladies hit at least one sparkling wine spot. Domaine Tattinger is in Carneros just before arriving in Napa. Chandon is in Yountville and on Silverado trail towards St Helena is Mumm. Thats a start and a good one.

    1 Reply
    1. re: mick

      My favorites are Terra, Meadowood, and Martini House. Redd is good also, but not as good as 2-3 years ago. Ubuntu is lovely. Ad Hoc is great.

      Mustards has lost their main chef, some of the kitchen staff, and their pastry chef,
      so I wouldn't recommend it. Its former glory and culinary prowess are gone.

      Not at all a fan of Oxbow Market. I was there last night, and it resembles the food court of a mall -- modern urban building -- that could be in any city. The food is so-so, but the reason that Oxbow strikes me as wrong for visitors is that it makes so much more sense to dine in the lush countryside of Napa Valley, among the grapevines and beauty, and the extensive panaroma of green. Not in the city of Napa so much, unless it's at night. That generally means Yountville and north.

      I do recommend a bubbly wine stop. My favorite is Schramsberg by far. Mick had the name of the Carneros bubbly house slightly wrong -- it's Domaine Carneros, but owned by Taittinger.

      Bouchon is out for group your size, since the only good service is at the bar (truly, the seating area is horrible).

      Love the rec of In 'N' Out for a burger -- check out their secret ordering language on their website: 3 x 3 protein style, animal style, etc. Visiting a taco truck is fun -- we're known for burritos out here, but each taco truck in the SF Bay Area has its individual great items...do a search.

      Taylor's Refresher ahi tuna burger is wonderful. The burgers aren't. Kind of a fun scene in St. Helena.

      When you visit a winery, be sure you're polite and listen -- wineries are very wary of groups of females -- they have a tendency to be loud and get drunk. Just so you know.

      There are a huge number of posts on what's good in Napa, if you'd like to do a search.

    2. The French Laundry is of course the recognized mecca, if you can get a table (easier lately with the economic downturn). But it's almost impossible to go wrong anywhere else also. Overall my favorite otherwise is Redd, also in Yountville. Bouchon is OK in my opinion, but must stop in at Bouchon Bakery. I'd second the spontaneous goodness of Ad Hoc. My other favorites include Terra in St. Helena, Meadowood, Tra Vigne for casual Italian, Martini House, and Mustard's Grill for one dish, the pork chop.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Paris Dreamin

        Has anyone been to Del Dotto caves? Looks like a good time from the description.

      2. Yountville: Super high end The French Laundry is about as good as it gets; also expensive. Redd would be my next choice. Bouchon is good, too. Bistro Jeanty last summer was very good as far as food goes but the service was just adequate-if that. Mustards and Brix area also good places for lunch or dinner. Terre in St. Helena is excellent. Auberge has a fabulous view and really good/ excellent food every time I've been there (4+) but it doesn't seem to get the props by reviewers or boards.

        5 Replies
        1. re: HoosierFoodie

          Auberge has a full restaurant, and also deck food/menu at the bar which is wonderful and has the same great view as the restaurant. The bar deck is a nice place to consider for refreshments in the afternoon, sunset views, or a more casual lunch.


          1. re: vday

            Late afternoon cocktail at Auberge is NOT to be missed.....

            1. re: vday

              Agree with Auberge. I had one of the most memorable lunches of my life on their terrace overlooking wine country. The food, the ambience and the service made it almost surreal. Pricey, but worth it.

              Allegria in downtown Napa has tasty, reasonably-priced Italian food in a lovely, lively environment (just tried it on a visit there last week). I also really enjoyed a lunch at Bistro Don Giovanni. It's a beautiful restaurant, and you can dine on the flower-studded patio overlooking lush vineyards.

              We also had a great lunch at St. Helena Market restauarant, if you get up that way.

              I managed to get reservations at the French Laundry on a previous trip to wine country, and personally would not do that again. The food WAS special, but I found the ambience to be prim and stuffy and the waitstaff to be an uncomfortable combo of pretentious/obsequious. Overall, $650 for two with one bottle of wine and two cocktails seemed a bit steep for the experience.

              1. re: sweet_polly

                I didn't think they served cocktails at French Laundry.

                1. re: Jake Barnes

                  They don't. It was two glasses of pre-dinner sparkling wine. Sorry for not being more clear.

          2. In St. Helena, Go Fish is great for cocktails and sushi, Cook is where the locals eat, and Martini House is the best all around. Try Taylor's for burgers or Villa Corona for Mexican. Happy Dining!

            1. I have never seen Oakville Grocery Co. mentioned for (takeout) sandwiches & other picnic items. I used to love them when they were open at Stanford. How's the Napa store?

              6 Replies
              1. re: ceekskat

                Ironically, I prefer the Healdsburg store to the Oakville store (go figure) but the Oakville store is still very good.

                1. re: ceekskat

                  I was never impressed with Oakville Grocery at any location.

                  1. re: rworange

                    I much prefer Sunshine Market to Oakville Grocery.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      IIRC, they have a pretty wide selection of the local wines at fairly decent prices.

                      1. re: PolarBear

                        No wine any more at Oakville grocery, they lost their license to sell alcohol about a year ago so unless things changed recently...

                        We have gotten deli items at Oakville Grocery and they have some good stuff and will fix you sandwiches. If you do pack up a picnic get an appointment at Pride Mountain Vineyards and head up to the top of Spring Mountain and have your lunch at one of the picnic tables on the ridge. Buy a bottle of the Pride Viongier and enjoy.

                        1. re: skwid

                          Pride Mountain is great. They make many beautiful wines.

                          Sunshine Market is much better for picnic fixin's than Oakville.

                          Yes, no more wine sales at Oakville Grocery after they stiffed a lot of wineries -- didn't pay them for their wine even though they sold their product. This caused a good deal of upset and anger, and affected the
                          boutique wineries -- who could not afford to lose money -- the most.
                          It was a reprehensible thing to do.

                2. 4 Days?

                  Lunch one day at Taylor's Refresher. Cheap and Napa 'experience'. Other inexpensive lunch place to consider is Oakville Grocery. They sell fresh cheeses, sandwichs, breads, salads, etc to have for lunch. Very nice.

                  My favorite Napa restaurant is Martini House, but I admit I've not been to all the big ones. I love Ame in SF, my one experience with Terra in Napa wa less than stellar but I am willing to believe it was an outlier since it is the same people who run Ame and Ame, as I said, is *amazing*.

                  Ad Hoc, Bouchon, and, obviously, TFL (never been, but... come on).

                  Market serves good, relatively inexpensive, 'classic' American fare. (Think brisket and cheddar cheese soup) -- it is owned by the same people who own ** Michelin Cyrus in Sonoma.

                  I see you asked about Del Dotto. The tou there is awesome. Expensive, but awesome.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: whiner

                    Just don't get a buger at Taylor's. In-N-Out is just as good and way cheaper. Though I never ate at Ad Hoc, I'd pick that over Bouchon which is just a French cafe. If you have one in your town, why waste a meal herel? Then again, I'm just not a Thomas Keller fan.

                    1. re: rworange

                      The ahi burger at Taylor's is the best thing there, so get that.

                      I had a fantastic French meal at Bouchon the other night. Great raw bar with a variety of oysters. Wonderful mussels, bread, cheese plate, chicken, steak, well-chosen well-priced wine list. All so good. But the only place to sit is at the bar. Do not sit at a table.

                      Bistro Jeanty is perfectly charming and serves very good food. I love the smoked trout, tomato soup, steak frites, mussels, grilled bread, bearnaise, cassoulet, tarte tatin and a number of other things. Love that sweet patio with the flowers in the window boxes -- straight out of Europe!

                      I adore Thomas Keller, and I'd also recommend Ad Hoc. Of Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty and Ad Hoc, Ad Hoc would be my first choice. But for a simple dinner on
                      the spur of the moment, the bar at Bouchon is great. The patio at Jeanty is great.
                      Ad Hoc requires reservations and can't be a spur of the moment thing.

                      I also ate a lovely meal sitting on the veranda at Bottega recently. The burrata, seafood stew and bread at Bottega are all fantastic. The brussel sprouts salad was different and unusual. Also tasted the steak and chicken and thought they were good but not inspired. But Bottega is probably priced a bit too high for what you get.

                      In terms of the best here?? French Laundry of course, but then Terra, Ubuntu,
                      Martini House, Redd. After that, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen, Bistro Don Giovanni, Brix and Bottega (the latter only for certain menu items). For lunch, a picnic at a winery or park is the best thing going. Then casual things like gourmet sandwiches or burritos. The taco trucks (don't laugh) are very good.

                      I live here and so have had ample opportunity to try each restaurant here several times, which includes being disappointed by a restaurant consistently over several visits. That is why I'm not at all a fan of Mustards (severe decline before the kitchen exodus) or Market (inattentive and relatively uninspired) or Tra Vigne (pricey for what you get and still resting on its former laurels). Some restaurants here I've been to twenty to fifty times (Terra, Martini House, Don Giovanni, Cindy's, Bouchon) and am always pleased, even if I have a new server and am not recognized as a regular.

                      Just my 2 cents...

                  2. French Laundry, Bouchon, Auberge, Ad Hoc...all good as mentioned.

                    On the cheap side, I'd also hit In 'n Out (as mentioned) and a taco truck. One reviewed here and linked below: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/625861

                    Michoacan Taco Truck
                    1685 Trancas St, Napa, CA

                    1. Yes, French Laundry is almost impossible to get into, so try the sister restaurant Bouchon. We enjoyed the Italian restaurant Tra Vigne and for breakfast/brunch try Boon Fly Cafe. Also found a website that is geared to girlfriend getaways, it's free - their itinerary for Napa includes lots of good vineyards. greatgirltrips.com

                      1. Oakville is back selling wine- selection is good. Dean and Deluca is good for cheese and meats - best deli sandwich to go in the valley is Genovas Deli in Napa down on e block from Wholefoods - ge there early and you will be happy true Italian Deli.

                        Bar side @ Auberge greta for champange and apps.
                        Bar @ Martini HOuse for meeting people and apps.
                        Bottega on the patio for dinner one night Yountville
                        REDD the patio is great and more refinded food
                        Bouchon if you sit at the bar and love raw bar -
                        Angele if you are staying in Napa - great Patio and food great bar inside.
                        If you can the tour up at Schramsburg is really great and you cover the champange in one swoop.

                        5 Replies
                          1. re: tschaf17

                            After all of your great suggestions and some random searches, I have started a running list. Please give me your input on what we have so far. Keep in mind we are staying at the Napa Valley Mariott and we will have a car.
                            wineries -
                            Del Dotto
                            Castello di Amorosa
                            restaurants -
                            ad Hoc
                            Ristorante Allegria
                            Bistro Don Giovanni
                            La Toque
                            Go Fish sushi (we need at LEAST two good sushi experiences during our trip)
                            Tra Vigne
                            Mustards Grill
                            Sunshine Market (for picnic)
                            Boon Fly Cafe (breakfast)
                            Taco truck???

                            1. re: tschaf17

                              Here are the good spots on your list:
                              Del Dotto
                              Ad Hoc
                              Bistro Don Giovanni
                              Sunshine Market
                              Boon Fly for breakfast
                              Taco trucks.

                              Truly, all the other options are weak. Please read the threads on Napa from the last year. I'm sincerely trying to steer you away from disappointing experiences.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                I agree with Maria mostly, but I don't think Bouchon or Chandon are weak, per se.

                                1. re: whiner

                                  I generally agree with Maria's list. Some additions:

                                  * Bouchon Bakery in Yountville for breakfast. Get your coffee and pastry (or panini) and stroll through town up to the French Laundry gardens.

                                  * Go Fish is quite good for sushi -- a rarity in Napa Valley.

                                  * Redd: reserve at lunch on the patio -- excellent food, special California ambiance and very reasonably priced. More formal, stark inside.

                                  * Oxbow Market: I think it is fun. Oysters at the bar at Hog Island is a winner. Check out Fatted Calf as well just to peruse top pork and lamb related products.

                                  * Your hotel is where the Oakland Raiders have their summer camp -- right now. You'll notice lots of 300 lb. + guys in the lobby.

                                  Have a wonderful time. Hope you report back.

                        1. You're going during the biggest crush of the tourist season. My number one recommendation for visiting wineries would be this: AVOID THE WEEKENDS!!! Hwy-29 will be clogged with traffic, and the tasting rooms clogged with visitors. The difference between a Wednesday and a Saturday is like the difference between waltzing into the VIP room and standing in line at Disneyland.

                          (Hey, I love my granny, and I've been known to love a drunken bachelorette... just not by the tour bus-full!)

                          There's no way to get around the traffic on weekends, but a good strategy might be to pick the small, family-run, by-reservation-only wineries. And maybe some a bit away from the main Napa "strip", say Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma.

                          Winery experiences: Frog's Leap in Rutherford for the combined tour/tasting (must make reservation); definitely some place for bubbly (Mumm, Chandon are both very nice). Then, think about those Napa/Sonoma wines you've loved, and especially those that aren't readily available retail - these are perfect destinations for picking up some wine! For example, I love A. Rafanelli's Zins and Cabs, but can only get them by the (heavily marked up) glass in Boston restaurants. Nothing like coming home with a couple boxes of bottles to crack open at those moments when the snow is piling up - instant liquid vacation replete with warm memories of a golden Napa harvest!

                          Note on travelling with wine: it's very easy and recommended if you have a direct flight. Even if you're not buying a full case. Most wineries have the travel boxes for 6 bottles, and they are secure for travel. Bring packing tape to the baggage counter in case they want to inspect, then tape and check. You'll likely have to pay an extra baggage fee if you're checking other luggage. Some wineries will ship, and this depends largely on variances in state laws, but it's not recommended. Too many shipping hubs in crazy hot places like Arizona - it'd be a shame if your wine got cooked in some oven of a warehouse!

                          Food: Ubuntu for a quintessential No. Cali. experience (don't let the vegetarianness put you off - this is full-flavored food created with love); Bistro Jeanty - I know, yet another gastro-bistro? Well, yeah, but wonderful foie gras mousse, moules/frites, cassoulet , bread puddings, and other rich and decadent rustic faves; Pizzeria Va Trigna-great pizza and no corkage fee!; Bouchon Bakery for pastry and other sweets.

                          And I would recommend a stop at Dean & Deluca. Yes, I know you have NYers traveling with you, but both wine country locations stock a large variety of local goodies not available in NY. Baked goods, cheeses, gelati ... and everything you might need to put together an excellent picnic. Sunshine Grocer is also nice. I also like Oakville Grocer, though I see there are some detracters here. I don't think Oxbow Market is worth your time. Or V-Market in Yountville, for that matter.

                          Consider where you'll be staying each night (move around if possible!), and make that your final destination for the day, especially if it means you can park the car for good. For example, if you're staying in Yountville, you might check-in at 3pm, park the car for the day, and then set out on-foot to Domaine Chandon for bubbly, or the tasting rooms in town for still wine, and eventually out to dinner at TFL, Jeanty, ad hoc, or some other local eatery - all of this is easy walking distance, especially for Bostonians, NYers, Chicagoans used to walking everywhere. Then, the next night, stay in St. Helena or some other destination and enjoy the local offerings there on-foot.

                          Plan your trip with a map that shows the locations of all the wineries. Make your reservations accordingly. Don't be that guy pulled over on the side of the road desperately trying to read his map, working the cellphone for last minute reservations, and generally wasting valuable time. Have your firm itinerary complete - but don't "overbook" yourself - and include options and additions in case you have extra time or the inclination for "just one more winery!". Include easy directions from one destination to the next. Do the work now - you'll be glad you did as you sail easily from one stop to the next with nothing to think about save what a great a time you're having!

                          24 Replies
                          1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                            I have to disagree on Dean and Delucca. IMO, this is just some sort of leftover loyalty from the days when the Napa Valley didn't have much in the way of specialty stores. There's much better available these days even at Whole Foods. Seriously, can you name one thing Dean & DeLucca carries that WF, Napa doesn't? I found on a couple of visits to D&D recently it does NOT deserve the accolates it gets ... and that produce ... ugh. Sort of the Taylor's Refresher of grocery stores, over-hyped.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Jamon Iberico and Round Pond olive oil?

                              1. re: wolfe

                                I don't have an item by item memory of what each store carries, but olive oil isn't something I'd add as a picnic supply but even so, WF has most of the local oils. Why buy a ham from Spain for a Napa picnic? Wouldn't the cold cuts from Fatted Calf at Oxbow which are not available elsewhere in the country be a better celebration of local cuisine. And I will say the apethetic help at the D&D cheese counter is nothing compared to Oxbow's Cheese Merchants knowledgeable staff. They also supply some of the best restaurants in the Napa Valley. Often they mention that some cheese I'm interested in is being served at this or that restaurant currently

                                1. re: rworange

                                  I didn't get a chance to visit the local WF, but I have reason to doubt your observations. WF does an excellent job of featuring the local goods here in Boston, too.

                                  A D&D recommendation is bound to be controversial, but my experience at D&D's cheese counter was quite different than yours, as I enjoyed so many samples from regional creameries than it was practically a tasting course in the cheesemaker's art. The young man actually sought out my wife and I over in the adjacent wine-store bearing an overlooked variety "we just had to taste". Imperfect, yes. Overpriced, probably. But apathetic? At least not in our experience. If one is driving through St. Helena in need of picnic supplies, I can't imagine you'd be disappointed. But, if doubtful, just drive on down to Sunshine or Oakville Grocer, Oxbow, or indeed WF for your picnic supplies.

                                  1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                                    Just to be clear, I'm not recommending the cheese at Whole Foods Napa either. Neither place is going to do as well as a shop where the focus is cheese and only cheese. Just no contest.

                                    I wish I experienced what you did at D&D. After all the accolades and a dreadful first visit, I went back a number of times to see if I missed something. I'm just not feeling it.

                                    While I would suggest local markets over national businesses such as D&D and WF, the Napa WF is pretty impressive and proabably the best in the Bay Area. It even includes a little wine bar featuring tastes of wines from estate sales.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      O boy, I hope this was clear in context, but of course I mean to write "I have **NO** reason to doubt your observations"!

                                      1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                                        What about V.Sattui Winery across the street from D&D, they have picnic tables, cheese and picnic foods and of course wine tasting. How is the cheese selection at V.Sattui Winery?

                                        1. re: nola1421

                                          Sattui, buy the deli but don't drink the water, I mean the wine.
                                          Along with the charcuterie items at Oxbow Fatted Calf there is a nice selection of cheese at the Cheese Merchant.

                                          1. re: nola1421

                                            Sattui is god-awful. The wines are literally flawed and it's a frickin' tourist trap.
                                            Seek elsewhere.

                              2. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                                Thanks all, my list is finally coming together. We are travelling Sunday-Thursday so I am hoping to avoid the weekend drama.
                                Please comment on a few other wineries that I have stumbled upon:
                                BV, Beringer, Rutherford Hill, Robert Mondavi, Sequoia Grove

                                1. re: tschaf17

                                  Sequoia Grove is good, try Peju, Cakebread, St Supery and White Hall Lane. I like Cliff Lede and Silver Oak. Have a great time in Napa ladies.

                                  1. re: tschaf17

                                    I really don't want to sound condesceding here, so bear with me. Maria Lorraine is correct in saying many wineries are wary of drunken groups of women. If you're looking to party and have a good time, you're winery selections will do nicely. However, if you're serious about finding some amazing wine, please dig a little deeper. There are so many wonderful smaller, family-run wineries that are really the backbone of the wine country experience. But if you drink and enjoy Mondavi, BV, Sterling, and Beringer back home and enjoy them, by all means pay them a visit and see where your favorite wines are made. Just remember there are over 400 wineries in Napa, and probably less than 100 have any kind of significant national distribution. Part of the magic of coming to Napa is enjoying wines you can't find back home!

                                    One other suggestion: since you're staying at the Marriott, one place I would recommend is Fume Bistro. One of my favorite restos in the city of Napa, and a fairly short walk from your hotel. (No DUI!)

                                    1. re: brucemac707

                                      Oh please do not go to Castello di Amorosa - it is just an embarassment and gives the Valley a Disneyesque feel. Look at me I have money - oodles of money!!
                                      I will second Fume Bistro - always reliable and one of the best calamari fritos in the valley IMO.

                                      1. re: brucemac707

                                        your comment is appreciated. we are looking for a true wine country experience and although we are young and looking for a fun vacation, we are not party girls and we are serious about drinking quality versus quantity (as apparently by your comment many choose to do). i would love more insight on the smaller, family run wineries. please advise on your favorite family-run establishments. definitely no DUIs for us! will check out fume bistro

                                        1. re: tschaf17

                                          From your list Chandon,Bouchon and Bistro Don Giavonni. You could walk Yountville and hit many of the tasting rooms and then have lunch one day.

                                          1. re: tschaf17

                                            To name a few faves:

                                            Ancien (terrific Pinots)
                                            Robert Biale (awesome zins)
                                            Judd's Hill
                                            Hopper Creek
                                            Vincent Arroyo (petite sirah)
                                            Pride Mountain
                                            Charbay (interesting change of pace)

                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                Thanks, Maria! I really enjoy your postings on here. Your no-nonsense approach to directing people to the best in the valley really strikes a chord with me. There's so many tourist traps around here, and CH is all about finding the diamond in the rough, right!?

                                                1. re: brucemac707

                                                  Absolutely. I try to direct CHers towards the spots with the best flavor/cost ratio or best quality, and direct them away from places when other better options exist. To do that, you must be familiar with the breadth of options available.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    So very true, that's why you gotta ask the locals!

                                              2. re: brucemac707

                                                fabulous! i am already planning to suggest three of these to the girls and i have only made it halfway through your list. thanks much

                                          2. re: tschaf17


                                            I just want to check and make sure that you have done a Chowhound search on each of the locations you've asked about.

                                            You'll find a great wealth of info from my CHers that way -- I know for a fact that
                                            each has been written about rather recently, some in the last day or two.

                                            Use Google if the Chow search doesn't work.
                                            Example for Google search: Chowhound "rutherford hill" napa